Real Writers Shit Often

August 9, 2019

Every time I publish something, there’s a horrific typo. That’s what happens when you’re a solo writer — there’s no one to catch your screw pups.

But Real Writers Ship Often, anyway.

When I was a full-time sportswriter, I had an editor. Most pieces had quick turnaround times, but I occasionally wrote longer features. This one piece, I had self-edited and rewritten a dozen times. I was proud. I sent it to my editor, expecting a missed typo or two. Nothing more.

“Dude, you used the word “just” like 25 times.”

Fuck you, I would have seen that!

I searched the document. Control F. And he was right, I had used the word just … just about 25 times in a 1,500-word piece.

I eliminated 23 of them and lost zero meaning.

Ever since, my mind has been primed to watch out for justs when editing.

It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon — like when your fashionable friend introduces you to those fjallraven kanken backpacks, and you’re like, I don’t know what you’re talking about … and once they point one out, you see them EVERYWHERE.

Butt itch still took me about a year to finally stop overusing that goddamn word. Even after I had been explicitly told about it.

It’s physically impossible to see your own writing at a distance.

You’re too close to it. You need outside eyes, no matter how talented you are.

It never ceases to amaze me how oblivious we are to our own writing. It’s of course not unique to writing — we miss most of our weaknesses, even our strengths and quirks and mannerisms.

We just can’t see ourselves objectively.

In a perfect world, we’d all hire an editor. But that’s expensive. Not realistic for most.

So what‘s a solo writer to do?

Most solo writers have one of two problems, when it comes to improving their writing.

  1. They don’t write enough (output).
  2. They don’t get enough feedback, so they never improve.

Improvement requires practice and course-correction.

Most writers treat writing as hibernation. Because to be productive, you need solitude. So they put their head down and write for months, or lifetimes … and pop their head up, expecting the outside world to just get it.

Writing is more like living in the burbs. Living in the city is too busy. Too much feedback. In the suburbs, you still have your solitude … but you can go out in the city every weekend. See a show, hit a bar, see how the people respond.

I don’t know if that example makes sense. I’ll have to wait for your feedback.

When I wrote for SportsGrid, publishing ~6 times a day was my job. I’d get fired otherwise. So I did. And by default, I rushed things.

My output was too high.

So I became a perfectionist, and my output became too low. I was hiding.

Getting better is all about finding the right balance between:

  1. Output.
  2. Quality.
  3. Feedback.

You don’t want to be a slave to your editors or readers. But by crowdsourcing feedback to the masses — publishing often, but not too often — you see how people respond, generally. Do they like, share, comment? What are the trends within what they say?

Do you know what people think of your writing?

If not, you need to write more.

If yes, you need to inquire and adapt.

Never take one person’s comment as gospel. But if there’s a trend, you might want to listen.

Unless that one person is Elon Musk.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” — Elon Musk

If nobody likes this article, I’ll be forced to ask why. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have an editor. I’ll learn what needs to be learned.

We’re all afraid to publish. That’s OK. Let go. You will make mistakes, so why stress about it? You will write stuff people ignore.

You cunt avoid it.

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